We need to educate ourselves on what a safe in-person education looks like


These statements are themselves designed to reflect a privileged worldview: that of single-family households and foster schools. It misses the perspective of vulnerable children and multigenerational families living with racial disparities and disabilities. The Biden administration inadvertently showed how invisible some of these groups are in the pink race to get back to “normal” when Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had to apologize to disability advocates on an edited version of a television interview it sounded like he said it was “really encouraging news” that most COVID deaths have been suffered by people with at least four health conditions.

As a physician and epidemiologist to advise several community and educational groups throughout the pandemic, I hope that when the next crisis hits, we will start from the point where everyone suffers. Everyone should have a say in what a return to “normal” looks like.

We must remember, like Newton ageism scholar Margaret Gullette postulates that one of the main reasons why the nation to slow down The initial response to COVID-19 was because it was “only” old people who were dying at first, in nursing homes. During the first half of the pandemic, 80% of deaths from COVID were among people aged 65 or over.

We must remember that learning in school is no paradise for parents of color, who fear that their children will be the target of pendant lights and special education in underfunded systems, which also have sanitized social studies programs. As one black parent told the Washington Post last fall in a growing movement of homeschooled by parents of color“I feel like the school system is setting these kids up to fail, and I don’t want my child to be part of it.”

White “in-school” advocates do not volunteer to say that it is safer to send white children to school because the consequences of infections are mitigated by better basic health, less multigenerational family structuresand the largest capacity to work at homerelative to the average black or Latino worker.

White parents don’t fear losing their children or orphaning their children in the same way as parents and grandparents of color. For all talk about children’s ability to generally cope with the virus, black and indigenous children are, respectively, 3.5 times and 2.7 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than white children. In one study last month in the journal Pediatrics, Black and Latino children were twice as likely to lose a parent or caregiver to COVID than a white child. Indigenous children were four and a half times more likely than a white child to lose a parent or caregiver.

In this context, it is easy to see why rational black and Latino parents are consistently the the most reluctant to send their children back to in-person learning during the pandemic. Yet they are often portrayed as ignoramuses who need convincing.

Instead, it is school advocates who must abandon either/or thinking that reflexively views remote learning as an absolute evil. Last year, the Christian Science Monitor featured school districts that found distance learning to have significant benefits by providing computers to low-income students, reducing academic losses due to school suspensions, and providing flexibility in parent-teacher meetings. Lincoln, Neb., Superintendent Steve Joel told The Monitor, “I think we’ve learned to better individualize and differentiate instruction. I think we’ve always been good at it, but I think we’ve become much better at it.

This should inspire us to improve in this debate at school. Omicron is fading, but disparities remain. We need to educate ourselves on what safe in-person schooling looks like – for all families.

Dr. Michelle Holmes is Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Associate Professor of Epidemiology at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.


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